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Vice Balances Brand Safety With Editorial Autonomy


For Vice Media, an edgy, youth-oriented publisher rooted in eccentricity, being brand-safe means giving advertisers enough control over their ad placements to keep the briefs coming.

“There’s certain content brands would like to be associated with and certain content they would not,” said Andrew Smith, VP of digital for Vice Media.

He noted that much of Vice’s vertical coverage – like Thump for electronic music and culture, for example – is completely brand-safe.

That’s why Vice developed a tool to let advertisers elect what types of content within the Vice ecosystem they wished to associate with.

About a year before Google’s highly publicized brand-safety struggle, Vice worked with contextual analytics company Grapeshot to build a custom brand-safety tool.

Editorial doesn’t oversee the tool in order to preserve the church-and-state divide between editorial and commercial opportunities with advertisers.

“We didn’t think it should be up to editorial teams to make these decisions to classify content in certain ways,” Smith said.

Vice first used Grapeshot’s natural language-processing algorithms to categorize and score petabytes of content across its sites globally. Then, Vice integrated the tool with its Salesforce/Krux DMP to set the stage to match audiences with Grapeshot’s contextual insights. 

This combination let Vice’s advertisers dictate which content categories they wanted to advertise against.

Custom building a brand-safety solution helped us “cross language barriers so that we could align our audience platform, as well as our contextual targeting with [our] ad server and order management system,” Smith said. “This was a way to achieve scale very, very quickly.”

Because Grapeshot is integrated with exchanges and demand-side platforms like MediaMath, AppNexus, AOL, Turn and The Trade Desk, it can benchmark campaigns against larger swaths of bid stream data.


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“We not only allow them to avoid certain publisher environments, but to target, with precision, beside trending topics in the Vice ecosystem,” said John Snyder, CEO of Grapeshot. “This allows you to segment what a live audience sees in the moment and to be efficient – ensuring the right impressions were served for a brand on the right page.”

Grapeshot also integrates with Moat, so in addition to tracking traits like fraud and viewability, Grapeshot factors in contextual elements like hover/dwell rate and engagement with content.

Although Vice mostly uses Grapeshot to assess articles, image and keyword targets, capabilities such as frame-by-frame analysis of a video player, as well as object recognition within a video ad, are all considerations.

Because Grapeshot extracts a lot of metadata when analyzing content, its search and recommendation engine can determine the relation between words, images and where a video lies on an article page.

“We’re one of the fastest-growing data partners for The Trade Desk and they’ve been pushing into programmatic TV, for example, and Vice has a very video-rich environment,” Snyder said. “We understand the differences in value between words and [eventually] will deliver into [more] programmatic ecosystems as we see others, like The Trade Desk, moving more into over-the-top TV.”

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